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THE WORLD'S MOST BEAUTIFUL GOLF COURSES



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It's no secret that the best golf courses in the world are here in Ireland, but which of those courses are the most beautiful? Turns out the country is jam-packed with many of the most historic and talked-about golf spots, including one third of the world’s links courses.

Links land is a geological rarity, but with a windswept coastline, the natural conditions on the Wild Atlantic Way mean some of the greatest and most challenging links courses in the world are here.

The Wild Atlantic Way is the world’s longest defined coastal touring route, stretching for 2,500km along Ireland’s western seaboard. It’s a place where the wild Irish landscape collides with the dramatic Atlantic seascape – the perfect combination for creating stunning links courses with breathtaking backdrops.

From Donegal in the north to Cork in the south, through regions like Connemara, Galway Bay and Kerry, you’ll find the Ireland you’ve always imagined: breathtaking views, challenging courses and a warm welcome.

Here are 18 unmissable golf holes on the Wild Atlantic Way.

 
  • The Old Head Golf Links has been ranked #1 in Links Magazine’s listing of the most spectacular golf courses on the planet.
 

1. BALLYLIFFIN GOLF CLUB, CO. DONEGAL

Officially opened in 1948, Ballyliffin Golf Club's gorgeous seaside location and dual contrasting links courses have made it one of the world's finest golf resorts. One part Old Links heritage and one part New Links masterpiece, Ballyliffin has been hailed as a must-play by the likes of Rory McIlroy. This year, the club will play host to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, 4th – 8th July in a knockout weekend of some of the world's very best golf.

UNMISSABLE HOLE 1:

The 5th – a par 3 known as ‘The Tank’. We’ll leave you to imagine what this hole is like!
 

2. OLD HEAD GOLF LINKS, CO. CORK

The Old Head Golf Links has been ranked #1 in Links Magazine’s listing of the most spectacular golf courses on the planet. It’s built on a diamond of land, jutting out over two miles into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a must-play for any golf fan at least once in their life.

UNMISSABLE HOLE 2:

The 574 yard par 5 dogleg 12th hole is acknowledged as one of the great golf holes in the world.

 

3. WATERVILLE GOLF LINKS, CO. KERRY

A wonderfully remote course but far from isolated, the course owes its existence to the technological era of the late 1800s. At one of the most westerly points of Europe, the town’s cable station heralded a transatlantic bond with the USA which drew people to the area. And the course? Well, the legendary Mark O’Meara said it best after practicing here: “Waterville helped me realise the dream of a lifetime - victory in the Open Championship the following week.”

UNMISSABLE HOLE 3

The 7th is a terrific par 4. Doglegging to the right, it requires a tee shot played to a fairway framed by dunes and an approach into the prevailing wind to a well-protected green. 
 
 
Tralee Golf Club - Legendary actor Bill Murray once described the course as "...the most beautiful golf course I've ever played.
 

4. KILLARNEY (KILLEEN), CO. KERRY

The host venue of the 2010 and 2011 Irish Open, Killeen is a challenging course that contains stunning views of the lakes of Killarney. You might also recognise this course from the 1991 Irish Open, won by Nick Faldo, in which he was one of only three players to finish under par. You’ve been warned: it’s tough.

UNMISSABLE HOLE 4:

The 10th. It’s regularly voted one of the best par 3s in Ireland.  You play onto a green on one of Killarney’s lakes.

 

5. DOOKS GOLF LINKS, CO. KERRY

Founded in 1889 and one of the ten oldest golf clubs in Ireland, Dooks is situated in a panoramic setting in a corner of Dingle Bay with views of Carrauntuohill, Ireland’s highest mountain, the Macgillycuddy Reeks, Rossbeigh and Inch Peninsulas. Former European Golfer of the Year and Sky Sports presenter Ronan Rafferty puts it simply that it's “...one of the best kept secrets in Irish golf.” A real gem.

UNMISSABLE HOLE 5:

The 13th best illustrates the charm and magic of Dooks. It’s a throwback to the time when golf began and greens lay where they fell.

 

6. TRALEE GOLF CLUB 

Designed and built by the great Arnold Palmer, this stunning setting is a true paradise for those up to the challenge of what is widely acclaimed as one of the finest links courses in the world. Legendary actor Bill Murray once described the course as "...the most beautiful golf course I've ever played... the sea and the light and the sky and the hills and the fields.... it's just the prettiest one."

UNMISSABLE HOLE 6:

The 2nd with the spectacular view of Inch beach to the right. This was the location of the beach scenes in the epic 1970 movie Ryan’s Daughter, which won the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

 
 

7. BALLYBUNION GOLF CLUB (THE OLD COURSE), CO. KERRY

The legend that is Tom Watson, captain of the USA in the Ryder 2014, is another lover of Irish links golf and was captain of Ballybunion in 2000, the club’s centenary year. Upon playing Ballybunion Old Course for the first time he said, “A man might think the game of golf originated here. There appears to be no man-made influence. It looks like the course was laid out in the 10th century...” and “I am now of the opinion it is one of the best and most beautiful tests of links golf anywhere in the world.”  High praise indeed. Former US President Bill Clinton is also a huge fan of this course.

UNMISSABLE HOLE 7:

Named after Tom Watson, this is one of the best par 4s you will play anywhere. Tip: with the prevailing wind blowing from the sea, aim your tee shot down the boundary line. 

 

8. DOONBEG GOLF CLUB, CO. CLARE

Designed by Greg Norman, Doonbeg is a true test for any golfer. "He was out here all the time trying to change little things on the course," the course architect says of Norman. Against the ownership's wishes, Norman tried in vain to have a dune behind the sixth green removed because it helped to stop bad shots from rolling into trouble. Norman said, “I don't want some 8-handicapper to come in and tear up the course!"

UNMISSABLE HOLE 8:

The 14th, a short par 3. Measuring a seemingly handy 111 yards from the back tee, it's a hole that’s underestimated by all first-timers, with it being supremely difficult to judge your distance.

 
 

9. LAHINCH GOLF CLUB, CO. CLARE

Golf superstar alert: Big Phil Mickelson is a member here and has stated that it’s one of his favourite courses. For practice, Stewart Cink played the Old Course at Lahinch on 12th July 2009 and went on to win the British Open Championship one week later. If you’re in County Clare and a golf fan, play this course and you'll enjoy a truly premier Irish golf course experience.

UNMISSABLE HOLE 9:

The 4th - The Klondyke. The tee shot is played from a coastal ridge into a narrow valley, which then leaves you a completely blind second over the immense Klondyke sandhill to a green resting against the boundary wall.

 

10. CONNEMARA GOLF CLUB, CO. GALWAY

Nestled between the scenic splendour of the Twelve Bens mountain range and the Atlantic Ocean lies Connemara Golf Links. From the testing dogleg opening hole through to the breathtaking back nine, which have been acknowledged as the “equal to any in the world”, this place is special. George Wendt, best known as Norm from Cheers played a round here recently.

UNMISSABLE HOLE 10:

The challenging 211-yard par 3 13th, with its raised green. A real test.

 

11. WESTPORT GOLF CLUB, CO. MAYO

Set in the shadows of the awe-inspiring Croagh Patrick, Westport Golf Club is simply beautiful. Rory McIlroy won the Irish Close Championship here in 2005 and Paul McGinley, Europe team captain for the 2014 Ryder Cup, shot a course record 65 on his way to capturing the Smurfit PGA Championship in 2002. Go and try to beat Paul’s record!

UNMISSABLE HOLE 11:

Saleen, a 435 yard downhill par 4. Avoid the water on the right... it’s easier said than done.

 
  • BALLYBUNION GOLF CLUB (THE OLD COURSE), CO. KERRY
 

12. CARNE GOLF LINKS, CO. MAYO

The course sits on a peninsula in isolation on the edge of the Atlantic. Former European Golfer of the Year and Sky Sports presenter Ronan Rafferty has said, "If I play 18 holes and then want to go straight out again, I know I'm on to something special. That was certainly the case at Carne. For me, heaven." 

UNMISSABLE HOLE 12:

The first hole. A rollercoaster of a par 5.

 

13. ENNISCRONE GOLF CLUB (THE DUNES COURSE), CO. SLIGO

The scenery of The Dunes is second to none. Twelve of the Dunes 18 holes wind through some of the tallest, shaggy dunes on the coast. Two-time Masters Champion Bernhard Langer once stopped off to practice in Sligo and ended up staying for a week at Enniscrone. It’s not hard to see why.

UNMISSABLE HOLE 13:

The 17th. Perched just 145 yards from the tee, it sounds easy, but your shot is exposed to the neverending prevailing wind and the green is the only safe place to be.

 

14. THE COUNTY SLIGO GOLF CLUB AT ROSSES POINT, CO. SLIGO

In the words of the great Peter Alliss, “...a tremendous test for the highest quality player and great fun for the modest competitor, Rosses Point stands at the very top of the list of Irish courses.” The spectacular scenery of mountain, ocean and countryside surrounding this classic links has been immortalised in the poetry of William Butler Yeats. A must-play if you’re visiting Sligo.

UNMISSABLE HOLE 14:

The 7th – Ewing’s Profile. It’s the toughest hole on the course: long, with a cross-cutting creek 10 yards short of the green that requires a careful hand.

 
 

15. DONEGAL GOLF CLUB (MURVAGH LINKS), CO. DONEGAL

This links is isolated from the outside world by a forest of evergreens washed on one side by the great Atlantic Ocean and by Donegal Bay on the other. The serious golfer needs to be at his or her best, while those less serious will still enjoy Donegal as it offers a chance on each hole to win a battle, if not the overall war. The most famous member is the 2011 Open Champion Darren Clarke. He has described Donegal Golf Club on the Murvagh Peninsula as “one of my favourite courses in the world.”

UNMISSABLE HOLE 15:

The 5th. A par 3, the tee shot is played to a plateaued green, the size of which cannot be seen. Everywhere else is trouble so the tee shot can be intimidating at worst but can also inspire the good shot needed to land safely on the severely sloping green. Par here is noteworthy; a birdie is a career achievement.

 

16. NARIN & PORTNOO GOLF CLUB, CO. DONEGAL   

All manner of shots are required here: draws around sharp doglegs; crisp irons to par 3s over cavernous terrain; accurate tee-shots down snake-like fairways, some wide and some not so generous; low trajectory shots into the Atlantic breezes; high shots into raised and firm greens; chip and run shots over the mounds and dips. Sound tough? It is.

UNMISSABLE HOLE 16:

The beautiful par 3 7th. It’s a stunner. Trust us.

 
 

17. ROSAPENNA (SANDY HILLS LINKS), CO. DONEGAL 

This quote says it all about Sandy Hills: “Perhaps the best praise that can be given Sandy Hills is that there is not one weak hole on the course. In fact I would venture to say that there is not even one average hole on the course. With the Atlantic winds blowing, Sandy Hills simply offers a test of golf at its purest and toughest.” - Peter Acheson, Editor of Golf Digest Ireland

UNMISSABLE HOLE 17:

The 6th, a par 4 at the southern end of the course, with the drive over a crest that reveals a picture-postcard view of the beach and bay and Muckish Mountain straight ahead.

 

18. PORTSALON GOLF CLUB, CO. DONEGAL   

Portsalon is currently ranked in the top 25 courses in Ireland by Golf Digest. And the course is continuing to progress with the 2014 Ryder Cup captain, Paul McGinley, guiding further improvements. 

UNMISSABLE HOLE 18:

The 17th – River In. A great test and unchanged for over 130 years. At 503m full length, the approach heads up an incline to a plateau green that is fast and treacherous. Strong players can get home in two just as safely as the player seeking to play a finesse third to this puzzling green. Don't forget to look back from the green at the beauty of the terrain.

 

 
 

It's easy to see why Ireland's golf courses are so renowned. It's probably time to take the Bucket List out again, as you’ll want to make your way to the Wild Atlantic Way to see the best and most beautiful golf courses in the world.  


Don't forget to explore our map of all the Wild Atlantic Way golf courses mentioned, so you can get planning your ideal golf getaway.

 

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